(Jerry) David Madden Biography
David Madden Comments:
I've been trying all my life to pass the test F. Scott Fitzgerald set for himself. "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Camus's concept of the absurd helped clarify Fitzgerald's: one's life should be a self-created contradiction of the fact that life is basically absurd. A similar polarity has given some form to my art as well as my life. It was not books but my grandmother's storytelling and the movies' charged images that inspired me to write. My first literary hero was the Dionysian Thomas Wolfe; then came the Apollonian James Joyce. In the tensions between those two extremes I have tried to shape my own work. I have practiced for a long time now the concept that it is between the limitations externally imposed by the form I'm working in and limitations I imposed on myself in the writing of a specific work that I experience genuine and productive freedom. Two metaphors of the artist (and the teacher) are useful for me: the magician and the con man. As with the magician's techniques of illusion, art works by a phantom circuit; and the relationship between writer and reader is like that between the con man and his mark, except that the climax (the sting) is beneficial for both. For me, the function of fiction is to create imaginary words; discipline and technique enable me to cause that to happen. And in that process I consider my reader as an active collaborator.
(1995) Because it is on the crest of a single great wave of creative energy that I enter up all the activities in my life and in my writing, I reject the perception that the fact that I have not published a novel in fifteen years is evidence of diminished capacity. In all that time, I have researched and revised Sharpshooter, a Civil War novel, and published fourteen chapters from it. I have also created the United States Civil War Center. I have the first draft of a book that provides a unique perspective on ancient London Bridge (1110 to 1828). I have always worked simultaneously on five major projects, while taking up dozens of other life and literary projects. Surfing on the one great, never-ending wave of creative force is the life-work for me.
(2000) Recently, in my mid-sixties, as a matter of cold fact, I came to see that most of my fiction, and the best of it, reaches into unique characters or predicaments and unique other places, and unique other selves—unique in both life and literature, as I have lived, read, and imagined them.
From childhood, my fiction was written in a specific place and out of the specific oral traditions of the southern Appalachian Mountains, and out of radio drama and the movies, more than out of classic and modern literature. But the lure has always been nonspecific, extraordinary other places where my ordinary characters could explore and create unique other selves. For some characters, that uniqueness lasts only for the time duration of the fiction, for others, it is permanent. My characters cross the border between the ordinary and the extraordinary very rapidly.
Reading my contemporaries, I seldom see inclinations toward the kind of stories and novels I have just described as my own. I feel very little affinity for them or their work, except for Steven Millhauser. Although my masters in the art of fiction are Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Conrad, and Mansfield, I see now, looking back at the age of 67, more kinship in the creation of character and situation with Poe, Borges, Marquez, Michel Tournier, Jules Romains, Kafka, John Collier, A. E. Coppard, E. M. Forster. "Tales of Mystery and Imagination," title of a Poe collection, fits my own corpus.
In my childhood, I viewed every specific place (my bedroom) and every general place (my hometown) as other, and even as I moved from place to place, my imagination was stimulated to create other places, other selves (for my characters, more than myself). Sometimes the more specific the place and time, in the conventional sense (San Francisco in 1957, for instance), the more my imagination reached for possibilities beyond. In my novel in progress (since Christmas 1991), London Bridge Is Falling Down, nothing could be more specific than a bridge, even one with almost 200 houses and shops built on it. The first version reaches back and forth in time over the 800-year history of the ancient bridge and draws on times, places, people, real and imagined, and events up to the 365 nights I took nocturnal walks on London Bridge. For instance, Harpo Marx shows up on the bridge in the year 1342. Fragments of a story and facts about the building, maintenance, and final demolition of the bridge are scattered throughout those walks in words. My recent conversion to Christianity may affect the way I revise that first draft, but it won't be less other in time, place, and character, nor less exotic, bizarre, and demonic.
"When I am writing, I am far away and when I return I have already left." Neruda, Muchos Somos.
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